Besides a new coaching staff, the most impressive part about Atlanta's off-season was adding several new players to the defensive line. Adrian Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield have proven to be absolute bargains. The Clemson duo of Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett could fulfill two long-term starting spots on the defensive line, even if they haven't been true standouts yet.
While the pass rush has been disappointing, there have been plenty of positive results from Atlanta's revamped defensive line.Oddly enough, though, our two top defensive linemen here are players who were here before Dan Quinn, and who have been revitalized in Atlanta.
The NFL's Super Samoan has looked rejuvenated this season. With fewer snaps and playing more as a one-tech, Soliai has been terrific, playing a huge role in Atlanta's second-ranked run defense. The big bodies that seemed to be vastly overpaid have been the ultimate difference makers, particularly Soliai, and he stood out against San Francisco by practically living in the backfield.
His three stops and two hurries were one of the few bright spots from that embarrassing defeat. While his contract is still enormous, Soliai's play could justify at least one more season in Atlanta. He deserves split-honors with another defensive tackle for being the consistent defensive lineman so far this season. B+
A slight drop off over the past two weeks pushes him down. It still wouldn't be a travesty to label the reliable veteran as Atlanta's best defensive lineman. After being wasted on the edge for the past two seasons, Babineaux is back on the inside and continues to play like a 27 year-old.
He leads the team with six tackles for a loss. Despite not recording a sack, Babineaux has produced six hits and eight hurriesk according to Pro Football Focus. When you watch the All-22, his ability to penetrate and blow past offensive guards is still evident. The dependable lineman will always be a true fan favorite for being consistently productive. B+
Pure violence is the best way to describe Clayborn's style of play. His explosiveness always jumps out, but you can't ignore his overall technique. Look no further than him beating James Carpenter like an absolute toddler. Clayborn brings that aggressiveness that Dan Quinn craves from his defensive lineman.
From sacking Drew Brees on a key second down to halt New Orleans' momentum to drilling Doug Martin on a key third down, Clayborn has been an excellent signing. Due to not being a prototypical defensive tackle, he will get pushed around or over-pursue on running plays. That doesn't discount the brilliant move behind playing him as a defensive tackle. It has helped revitalize his career. B
Similar to Clayborn, this is another one-year "prove it" deal player that deserves to be re-signed. Schofield has brought versatility to a defensive line that desperately needed it. Many viewed him as a situational pass-rusher that should only be utilized on passing-downs.
Instead, the former Seahawk has been outstanding against the run. Andrew Hirsh broke down his impact extensively last month. Schofield seems suited to take Kroy Biermann's role next year by playing more on earlier downs. While he isn't anything exceptional as an edge rusher, Schofield remains effective enough to be utilized on all three downs if needed. Trying to play him in the base defense could be effective going into next season. B-
Deemed as the "new savior" to Atlanta's pass rushing problems, Beasley hasn't lived up to high expectations so far this season. It's pretty interesting that his first three games was his most productive stretch. Beasley got the better of Jason Peters on a few occasions followed by handling fellow rookie Ereck Flowers. His massive sack on third down captivated those promising performances against premier left tackle Tyron Smith.
Unfortunately, the highly-touted pass rusher has faded over the past month, along with the entire team. His poor spin move has correlated with a lack of production, and left tackles have pushed him around far too often. Unnecessary penalties have also been a frustrating issue for the young pass rusher. Thankfully for Atlanta's non-existent pass rush, Beasley has recognized his shortcomings, and seems optimistic about turning around a disappointing rookie season. C
One of the most notable punchlines for Falcon fans last season has been a pleasant surprise. Jackson has played an instrumental part in Atlanta's second ranked run defense. No longer getting pushed around on the inside, the former top three pick has set the edge powerfully all season.
Key third down stops against New Orleans and Tennessee were eye-opening plays. Jackson will never be a decent pass rusher, along with being a much better fit inside a 3-4 defense. Quinn has still managed to bring the best out of him, which coaches need to do for players that have been significantly overpaid. C
Jarrett has shown flashes in limited snaps. Many analysts valued him as a second round talent, and yet fell into the fifth round. The disrupting defensive tackle has reminded fans of Babineaux on a few occasions. His ability to create penetration has been showcased, especially against New Orleans.
Jarrett can bounce off blockers and close down running backs faster than most defensive linemen. While he can get pushed around due to being undersized, Jarrett offers excellent upside as a long-term replacement for Babineaux. His beautiful stunt with Beasley against Philadelphia caused a pivotal interception, which proved to be a difference maker. Quinn has stated that Jarrett will start to get more snaps, and it's hard to see how anyone would dispute that decision. C
It has been a slightly disappointing sophomore season for one of Atlanta's prime breakout candidates. Hageman has displayed his raw power on occasion to get into the backfield. He's been more consistent at winning one-on-one battles, along with better conditioning.
His technique still remains to be an issue, as Hageman's success relies on power rather than actual hand usage on most occasions. Playing overly aggressive and being overwhelmed by double teams has been problematic as well. Everyone knew that it was going to take time for him to develop into a quality starter, as extremely raw defensive tackles have a longer adjustment period than most defensive positions. There is still plenty of upside, but Hageman hasn't exactly shone this season. C-
After playing 867 snaps last season, a major decline was bound to happen. Biermann has always been more effective as a role player rather than full-time starter. By playing a limited role, there was a possibility that Biermann could have more success as a pass rusher. According to Pro Football Focus, the long-time Falcon has only one sack, two hits, and two hurries on 285 snaps.
His ability to set the edge on running plays deserves credence. That being said, Schofield's emergence doesn't bode well for Biermann's long-term outlook. The former Seahawk is a more versatile defensive end that excels against the run, and he even offers more from a pass-rushing standpoint. While Biermann was one of the bigger scapegoats last season, his play on limited snaps hasn't translated into anything substantial. His sack-strip of Eli Manning ignited an impressive fourth quarter comeback. That still isn't enough to keep him from the bottom. D+